Raíces (“Roots”): Concerto Suite for Orchestra
, commissioned by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its 50th Anniversary, is inspired by the enduring insistence of Latin America’s racial soul. As an American-born gringa-Latina who only began to travel in her mother’s homeland in Perú while in her late twenties, I still marvel that I “get” to claim heritage in such a culture, rich in ethnic variance and history. There had always been evidence, to be sure, of far-flung ancestral roots – My dark coloring, a teasing sense of humor distinctly labeled as Peruvian, and moments of déjà vu, sometimes disconcerting, upon hearing music from the Andean highlands. It can’t be denied, however, that I’m most comfortable speaking English, that I follow American politics before Peruvian, and I cook Peruvian cuisine with a kind of purposeful pride that my native-born cousins don’t seem to need.
And yet… I indeed have roots. A transformation happens when culture travels over continents and through generations, haphazard and personal. In Raíces, I pick up strands, poetic and musical, explored in other works of mine, and continue the journey:
I. Allegro Nazca: With a prominent role for the high bassoons, this clamorous introductory movement is inspired by the Nazca culture, a fiery pre-Inca coastal civilization that had a curious habit of ritualistically destroying its ceramic panpipes. The interval of the fourth and connected pulsations (tenutos) on the same note, hallmarks of panpipe music, are utilized.
II. Sombras (“Shadows”): The shadows I encounter in the highlands, the coasts, or on the islands in the great Lake Titicaca have always struck me as stranger, more otherworldly, than the ordinary ones at home… Or is it just my imagination? Regardless, in this movement, the oboe and English horn lead while the strings and harp follow, looming large and shrinking down as shadows do.
III. Muñequitos de Madera (“Little Wooden Dolls”): I love the small humble museums with their collections of toys. One such collection of colonial dolls of Quechua men and women hewn from wood finds its expression here in a virtuoso tour de force for the principle violin and cello.
IV. Danza Selvática (“Jungle Dance”): I confess that I have a great wariness of the jungles, and have only flirted with the border just east of the Andes. In this movement especially featuring the flutes, pizzicato strings are also prominent in lending a restless nervous quality to the music.
V. Adios al Altiplano (“Goodbye to the Highland”): Inspired by a visit I made to Churín, a highland Andean town where the youth have been leaving for more prosperous places, this tribute is sung by the horns against a backdrop of high strings (done with artificial harmonics), the harp, and bowed marimbas.
VI. Allegro Costenõ: I think of this finale, a romp inspired by coastal music, as a ballet as I can imagine dancers stomping it out! Although clarinets are in the forefront against a backdrop of strumming strings in the opening, the “concerto” spirit pervades the orchestra in a mostly egalitarian way.
— Gabriela Lena Frank
"The 50th Anniversary Concerts were also the occasions for the world premiere of Raíces (“Roots”), a concerto-suite for orchestra by California-based composer, Gabriel Lena Frank. Frank, whose music has already delighted Annapolis audiences in October 2010 and November 2011, assembled a set of six impressions of Peru (her mother’s native country) and used them to illustrate the capabilities of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra by setting various solo instruments against the back-drop of the orchestra in each movement.
What kept Raíces from becoming a repetitive and musically mundane exercise in concertante writing is Frank’s inimitable musical style, in which she counterpoises Latin-sounding themes against a very traditional classical framework and then illuminates the whole with her inventive use of sound (such as unusual percussion and ordinary instruments playing at the extremes of their normal registers) and an impish delight in surprising her listeners by introducing new tempos and instrumental combinations when one would expect a restatement of themes already encountered.
The first movement, “Allegro Nazca”, was distinguished by beginning and ending with the bassoons playing very high in their registers, and giving a nasal, yet eerie sound to the proceedings. The tension created by jagged, ominous string sounds let us know that, in Frank’s impression, the Nazca culture was one of tremendous violence.
“Sombras” (“Shadows”) featured the English horn and oboe as the principal solo instruments, with the flute darting in and out of the sonic picture like a brightly colored bird, as the strings portray shifting shadows before they scamper off at the end of the movement.
“Muñequitos de Madera” was the single most appealing movement in the entire suite. The whole percussion section accompanied by pizzicato strings playfully represented the little wooden dolls of the title, and highlighted their bright colors and their individuality. Here, the soloists were the concertmaster and principal cellist who kept up a running dialogue through the movement, seemingly trading impressions of the tunes around them.
Concertmaster Netanel Draiblate carried off his difficult part with jaunty humor that at times reflected the solo violin part in Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” (in fact I heard a lot of touches of Stravinsky throughout the entire concerto-suite). In all, this was a delightfully tuneful and charming segment of Raíces.
Nearly as pleasant and impressive was the “Danza Selvática”, which Frank describes as her jungle episode. It began with a low rush of strings supported by percussion before the flutes emerged to soar above the picture being painted. The music scene quickly became a sort of dance based on a four-note ostinato (quite similar to the “Jungle Jaunt” in Frank’s earlier piece, “Three Latin-American Dances”), before the pizzicato strings, flute and wooden percussion brought the movement to a close.
“Adiós al Altiplano” opened with a melancholy tune, as Frank reminds us that this is the young people saying farewell to their highland villages as they go off to seek better opportunities in the coastal cities of Peru. With its use of bowed percussion, this movement created an eerie effect of encroaching loneliness and isolation. But it is not all sad, as the horn soloists brought in an element of hope against a precisely constructed back-drop of a small contingent of string players.
“Allegro Costeño” was the only movement which (to me) sounded typically Latin. It began with a brash rush of trumpets underlain by the winds and the pizzicato strings (which seem to appear everywhere in this piece: Was Frank frightened by a violin bow at an early age?). Eventually everyone in the orchestra got into the act, as the movement kept changing direction and bringing in new combinations of sound (there were those surprises I alluded to earlier). And just when the listener thought that Frank was going to conclude the piece with some flamboyant and exhilarating finale, it simply tailed off gently.
Novo and his various soloists demonstrated a remarkable affinity for this tricky and intricate new score, and it was a delight to hear. Best of all, there is more music by Frank appearing in the ASO’s next concert season."
David Lindauer, Capital Gazette, 09/05/2012
"The ASO's golden celebration included a world premiere by composer-in-residence Gabriela Lena Frank, a residency made possible by Music Alive, a project of the League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer.
Frank is a significant figure on the new music scene, and the Annapolis ensemble is fortunate to have this two-year association with her.
Raices: Concerto Suite for Orchestra provides a fine showcase for Frank's vivid musical personality, with its multicultural influences (the title is Spanish for "roots"). The composer's part-Peruvian background comes to the fore here -- sensual harmonies, infectious rhythms -- and so does her flair for organizing ideas into cohesive structures.
Each of the six movements in this suite is a mini-tone poem; they add up to a diverting and substantive experience.
Bartok's famous Concerto for Orchestra is slyly referenced in the way paired instruments are used. Frank imaginatively spices each movement with that device, creating a continually shifting palette of colors, from smoky bassoons (in the urban-flavored Allegro Nazca) to melancholy horns (in Adios al Altiplano, an intriguing nocturne).
Jose-Luis Novo led the ASO in a persuasive performance that showed off the fine wind players, not to mention concertmaster Netanel Draiblate and principal cellist Todd Thiel, who did vibrant work in the rather sultry third movement.""
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun, 08/05/2012